Selenium Supplements for Goats
Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential to goats (and other mammals). It has a critical role in antioxidant function within cells in the form of selenoproteins. Vitamin E and selenium are closely linked in this function and both are required to protect tissue from damage. Selenium works to destroy peroxides before they can damage cells, and Vitamin E can repair and stop damage that does occur. Because of this relationship, Selenium and Vitamin E can partially replace each other and are often administered together as supplements. But neither can replace the other entirely. Selenium is required in extremely small quantities and has a very narrow margin of safety (i.e. between deficiency and poisoning). Actually, selenium was first identified as a toxin to livestock in the 1930's and it wasn't until the 1950's that it was discovered to be an essential nutrient.

Symptoms of selenium deficiency include impaired immune and kidney function. Minor deficiencies may result in generalized chronic health problems. The most dramatic symptom of selenium deficiency is probably Nutritional Muscular Dystrophy or, more commonly, White Muscle Disease (WMD). WMD is a condition in which kids are too weak to stand or suckle at birth, they consistently cough and may develop pneumonia because of muscle weakness in their lungs . Kids may typically display an "arched back" while standing (see picture). The mortality rate for WMD is very high, and even if recovery occurs, these goats will usually lag behind in both size and vigor. The disease got its name due to the fact that the muscles develop white streaks caused by degeneration of the muscle tissue.


I get my hay either locally, or from the feed store that purchases it in bulk from eastern Canada. In either case, this hay is going to be low in selenium, therefore I need to supplement. Now, it is absolutely maddening to try and figure out what the exact dose of selenium should be. Most internet sources just seem to repeat the same mantra over and over which is: ".1-.3ppm with 3 ppm being the toxicity dose." Well, I am no chemical genius here, but "ppm" is ratio and not an amount. A few sources seem to indicate that the ".1-.3ppm" refers to the content of the FORAGE, but that doesn't help me at all, because I know my forage is deficient. A deep internet search seemed to reveal that the MAXIMUM daily dose you want to give is .7mg (from the University of Maryland). I have yet to find out what the desired mg/day dosage is. The FDA recoommends 55 mcg/day for humans, but doesn't make a recommendation for goats.
So anyway, my supplementation focuses on two types, loose mineral supplements and selenium/vitamin E gel. I use MannaPro "Goat Minerals" and feed this free choice in a homemade feeder (here). The goats generally enjoy eating this and it provides 12ppm of selenium. This means that the goats would need to eat about 2 ounces (58g) of this daily in order to exceed the .7mg dosage of selenium. I don't think they come anywhere close to eating that amount, which again makes me worry about deficiency (one other source I have read said the loose minerals should be at least 90ppm to ensure an adequate dose). Therefore, I also supplement with Kaeco Vitamin E and Selenium gel. Once again, I can't easily figure out how much selenium is in there as it says give 4ml per month per goat (selenium is stored in the liver until needed) and only states that it contains 2.5ppm selenium. Well, doing some chemistry conversion, if this gel is 2.5ppm per volume then 4ml will contain about .01 microliters of selenium per dose. Selenium has a density of about 4.8g/ml so therefore this dose has about 48mg of pure selenium. If this is a 30 day dose, that means the goats are getting 1.6 mg per day, which according to the University of Maryland, is more than double what they should be getting. Hmmm, maybe I am not calculating this correctly. At any rate, I give this gel every three months or so, just to be sure they are getting enough but not too much.
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Symptoms of selenium toxicity include impaired vision, staggering (i.e. "blind staggers"), weak rear legs that progresses to the front legs, progressive weight loss, hair loss in the flanks and beard, and deformities/cracks in the horns and hooves. Some symptoms of selenium deficiency are identical to those of selenium toxicity. Kidney failure, failure to conceive, stillbirth and abortions can be caused by either too much or too little selenium. There is no "cure" for selenium toxicity. You just need to provide supportive care until the selenium can leave the system naturally.
Ensuring that your goats have an adequate (but not too much) amount of selenium is something of a challenge in many parts of the country. The primary natural source of selenium is from forage grown in areas with adequate soil selenium concentrations. Soil is considered deficient if there is less than .5mg of selenium per kg of soil. However, many areas of the U.S. have very little selenium and supplementation is required. Other areas of the country have too much. While some areas have a variable amount. This is perhaps the most frustrating condition as soil tests may be required, and may differ widely from adjacent areas. I have included a few different selenium "soil maps" (below) to give you an idea of selenium concentrations around the country. If you are located in a "variable" area, you might want to check with your local agricultural extension agent to see if more detailed local maps are available.

A lamb exhibiting signs of WMD
A sheep heart with WMD (left) next to a normal heart (right)
So, that is my selenium regimen, I am happy to hear about what others do and also to be provided with clearer instruction on what the goats should be getting per day as there seems to be some confusion and debate on this subject.